In 2015 and 2016, with the help of European subsidies, Toneelhuis developed a large-scale project revolving around Guy Cassiers’ staging of De welwillenden (The Kindly Ones), after the eponymous book by Jonathan Littell.
In this production, Cassiers confronts the darkest side of human behaviour: the Nazi body of thought and their extermination of the Jews. How could this have happened in the heart of Europe? What political, ideological, psychological and social transformations led to this violence and allowed it to run its course? Europe’s currently shaky political underpinnings and the emergence of extreme rightist and xenophobic parties give this project a special urgency.
Evolving in parallel to this central production were two digital initiatives that Toneelhuis and all of its participating European partners authorized in order to stimulate greater involvement and an active engagement amongst the various audience target groups (and also to deepen and enrich their experience of the production): testofcivilisation.eu and invisible-cities.be. The whole of it was named The Littell Project; which among other things travelled to theatres and festivals in Istanbul, Rome, Montreuil, Girona, Valenciennes and Amiens.
The first of the two digital initiatives is a multilingual longread, Test of Civilisation. This web doc starts with the historical context in which Jonathan Littell’s book takes place. Two returning themes in it are the perpetrator’s perspective and the impact of language, both then and now. In fifteen chapters, elaborately illustrated with filmic, pictorial and audial material from various archives, the longread describes the rise of the Nazi body of thought and the way in which this would determine all aspects of the lives of Jews and other outcasts. Its subtitle sums up the theme and approach: ‘...or how the European dream gave birth to a nightmare. If a comparison between now and the 1930s doesn’t hold water, then why are there so many similarities in the use of aggressive language?’
Another initiative was an intensive participatory public relations trajectory, whose results found expression on a digital platform called Invisible-Cities. Here, final-year journalism students at AP University College in Antwerp published nuanced portraits they had made of city dwellers who face exclusion for one reason or another. The project was then expanded to include other countries, where local journalism students also collected stories of the invisible inhabitants of their cities. In this way, the Turkish, Italian, Spanish and French partners developed their own collection of portraits (which were placed on the same site, invisible-cities.eu) of local inhabitants who face exclusion. Here too, this was preceded by a long trajectory between the theatres and local journalism schools.
The official transfer of testofcivilisation.eu to the Kazerne Dossin (Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights) took place on 23 February. Consequently, this platform is now part of the museum’s collection, guaranteeing active visiting and use for years to come. Invisible-cities.eu was transferred to the AP University College, where it will be considered a working model for participation.
What started out as an audience development project supported by the European Union has now grown into permanently established websites that that will attract various audiences in a way that goes far beyond the theatre project as it was initially conceived.